Stop me if you've heard this one: Valve can't count to three. Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2, Dota 2, Counter-Strike Online 2--the evidence in favor of this joke that became serious business to players eager for the next chapter in virtually any of Valve's franchises is overwhelming. Here's the punchline: Valve still can't count to three--and maybe it doesn't have to.
Half-Life: Alyx, a VR-only prequel sandwiched between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, is not Half-Life 3. It's better.
Valve could have developed Half-Life 3, or Half-Life 2: Episode Three, or L4D3, or any other three-quel years ago, but it didn't, perhaps because it didn't have to. It had become known more for Steam and Dota 2 (and hats) than it had the franchise that formed its foundation. Then, several years ago, several developers at Valve got to thinking: What if we made a third Half-Life game? After years of waiting for a resolution to this story, what could that game be? What should it be?
Every Half-Life game has moved the FPS genre and the gaming industry forward. Half-Life ushered in a seismic shift from "Doom clones." Half-Life 2 gave us the Source engine, robust physics puzzles, and a little service called Steam. What could Half-Life 3 do on that scale? I can't say; I wasn't privy to those conversations. My guess, however, is that it would have been another FPS that would have excited fans like me, who have now waited 13 years and counting to learn the fate of Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance, and would have then been swallowed up by the likes of Fortnite and Dota 2 and League of Legends and Overwatch and other popular games that have captured mainstream attention in a way Half-Life never did.
A VR game bearing the Half-Life name was not only the bolder choice, it was the better one. Half-Life: Alyx doesn't carry the baggage of being a sequel to Half-Life 2, nor is it a tech demo with extra trimmings, a label too many VR games have attracted. Alyx is a full, proper video game teeming with the craftsmanship that Valve fans expect from the studio's games, and it can only be experienced in VR.
That might seem a drawback. When one thinks of VR, one likely still thinks of headsets that cost near $1,000 and high-end gaming PCs that cost three times as much. The truth is VR is more accessible than over. Shacknews editor-in-chief Asif Khan played it on the Valve Index; I played it on the HTC Vive; and news editor TJ Denzer played it on the Oculus Quest 2. Three editors, three headsets, three price points, three different PC configurations, all enjoying Half-Life: Alyx's rich experience thanks to the greater attainability of VR hardware and the scalability of Valve's engines.
You might argue that I'm lavishing more praise on Half-Life: Alyx than I am on Valve. I'd argue praise for one is tantamount to praise for the other. Half-Life: Alyx exhibits all the qualities that made Valve an esteemed developer, and a return to form nothing short of triumphant.
Check out the other winners from The Shacknews Awards 2020 in our Year of the Games: 2020 article.
David Craddock posted a new article, Shacknews Best Developer of 2020 - Valve